VocationVillage.com interviewed freelance writer and author Michelle Goodman.
Michelle, how long have you been a freelance writer and author?
In 1990 and 1991, I worked in staff jobs and freelanced a bit on the side — maybe just 5 hours a week. In 1992, I left my employee status behind and began to freelance as much as I could, 15-35 hours a week, supplementing my income with part-time jobs when work was slow. It wasn’t till 1994 or so that I was able to abandon the part-time jobs altogether and just freelance full-time.
What was your background before becoming a freelance writer?
I was the typical journalism major who wanted to be a writer. I was a reporter for a year and a half. I was also a publicist for a New York book publishing company for a year and a half. When I was 24, I vowed never to have another staff job again. I hated the rigid hours and I was bored. As a freelancer, I enjoy much more variety and autonomy.
How did you launch your freelance writer career?
I pounded the pavement. I left my full-time job before I had any local contacts, plus I moved from the East Coast to California. Maybe I left too soon. I had no work lined up, and it was a bit of a battle. I did obtain my first gig through someone I knew back in New York. I did copy editing of manuscripts. To get more work, I cold-called book publishers using the Yellow Pages. I had a 5% success rate. This was before the Internet. Eventually, word-of-mouth referrals started to happen, and now marketing myself is much easier.
What is a typical day like for you?
There really is no typical day! That’s what I like about my career. I do editing, rewrites of articles or marketing copy, communication with editors with whom I am currently working or with whom I hope to work, the actual writing, and paperwork like invoices or query letters.
What is the most challenging part of your freelance writer career?
Writing something on spec without knowing whether it will be accepted, juggling so many things at once, finding time to market when I am really busy with current work.
A lot of people believe that it is impossible to make much money in a freelance writer career. Can you comment on that?
Sure. While it is true that my first three years were a financial struggle, I’m calm about money now because I have several good steady clients, I always have options, and I always have two months of living expenses in savings.
What is the typical income in a freelance writer career?
If you are successful, you can make $30-50K/yr fairly easily and you could make twice that if you are willing to work a lot of hours.
How many hours do you work?
My preference is 25-30 hours per week, although some weeks I work up to 50 hours when the workload is heavy.
Who are your clients?
Salon, guru.com, techies.com, San Francisco Bay Guardian, ICplanet, content-exchange.com, Playboy.com, seattle24x7.com, Microsoft Press, ABCNews.com, Entrepreneur.com.
What are the most important skills to succeed in a freelance writer career?
In addition to strong writing skills, you must be aggressive without being overbearing. You must have the ability to market yourself. That’s what separates people who can be successfully self-employed from people who can’t. I once hated this part but I’ve learned to love it. After a while, looking at your work samples of places you have successfully pitched is very reassuring. In terms of attitude, you need to be able to persevere and to have some blind optimism so that you don’t get too discouraged. While there is a lot of competition from other writers, it is also true that there is a lot of variety in specialization and you can find your own niche.
What advice do you have for aspiring freelance writers?
Don’t launch too soon. It is better to sit back and tolerate your day job while you build your writing career, because it can take three months to two years to develop a full workload. The writing part is easier than the business part, and your network will slowly build. Also, you probably need to specialize. And you might have to take some work that is not your first choice but pays the bills. Health / medical, business, and high tech writing are more in-demand and more lucrative. Anything to do with pop culture is less in demand and less lucrative. And network!
What misperceptions are there about your job that you would like to clear up?
That I do nothing all day long at home! Also, it is a misperception that you can’t be financially secure as a writer, because you can.
What are your long-term goals in your freelance writer career?
To write more feature articles and fewer business “how to” pieces. To continue to publish my writing in venues like Salon and the alternative weekly papers, as well as sell my stories to a broader spectrum of glossy and alternative publications. I also write essays and short stories and plan to devote more time to that.
Thank you for the great info, Michelle! And congratulations on your successful writing career!
Michelle Goodman is the author of My So-Called Freelance Life: How to Survive and Thrive as a Creative Professional for Hire and The Anti 9-to-5 Guide: Practical Career Advice for Women Who Think Outside the Cube. You can visit her blog at Anti9to5Guide.com.
Read more career profiles.